OP – The Blog

February 27th, 2011

Live-Blogging the Aurora

Posted By Kevin Schafer

Aurora Borealis and Spruces, NWT

Greetings from the Arctic Circle!  This week my friend Steve Shuey and I (as well as our wives and a dear friend) are outside Yellowknife, Northwest Territories, trying to photograph the Northern Lights or Aurora Borealis.  The sun has been very active lately, so if weather and wind cooperate, we should have a very good shot at getting some fine aurora viewing over the next 5 days.

I will try and post every day to report on our progress, and to show examples of what we are getting. If you have never seen or photographed the Lights, it can be challenging – and exhilarating. No more so that this week when it is about -25 degrees C. with a 40-knot wind (making it close to -40 F.) Good weather for frostbite…but not necessarily for photography.!

Steve and I went out last night around 10 pm to scout out the area around Yellowknife – in the prime viewing zone for Aurora in the Northern Hemisphere – and managed to snap a couple shots. We were mostly testing equipment : this will be the first time I have ever shot aurora on digital after many years of doing it on film.  The problems (noise, primarily) are ones we will have to tackle to get high-quality images.

This test image in nothing special, shot by the side of the highway around midnight, but it gave us a real-world test of our gear and our clothing. Within 1 minute of getting out of the truck, the skin on our faces began to freeze. Add that to a fierce wind that made even the steadiest tripod shudder, and a very faint, shapeless aurora — we knew we were not going to get anything memorable that night.

Today, however, the wind is down, the skies clear, and hopes high.  We have flown out to Blachford Lake Lodge, a superb wilderness base for Aurora-viewing, and plan to spend the next few hours before dark scouting locations. I’ll report back tomorrow on how tonight turns out. Stay tuned…

Nikon D3, 28 f1.4 lens, ISO 800  8 seconds  f1.4

 

Please leave a comment

  1. Dennis Mammana Says:

    I’ll be interested in seeing how your noise at those temps compares to that at “normal” temps… should be significantly less!

  2. Kevin Schafer Says:

    Hi Dennis, thanks for your comment. I have enjoyed following some of your aurora trips online in the past.
    Steve and I are aware of this cold/noise issue, but based on last night’s experience, this was not the case – it was by far the coldest I have ever been in with aurora (at least measured in wind chill) and I had serious noise, which you can see in this first test picture. ( I use the D3 at ISO 800-1000 all the time in other kinds of situations, but this is the first time in these conditions.)

    Anyhow, I have increased NR on the camera (Nikon D3) to High, and will see if that improves things tonight. I will also increase exposure times to give a brighter overall image: with digital it is almost always better to darken a image in post-processing than to lighten it.

  3. Chandira Says:

    LOL, ok, you’re not in Seattle.. Guess I should have read a few posts first.

    Stay warm!

  4. Cyril O’Reilly Says:

    Hi Kevin, Try to check out Pilot’s monument downtown in Yk and also the Yellowknife River bridge outside town on the Ingram Trail, less than 25 minutes out past the Co-Op if my memory serves me correctly. After spending 5 years (2002-2007) teaching in YK I envy you your chance to view the aurora. I shot film and digital while there and used 400 ISO for both camera types. I used a D80 with a 10.5 f2.8 fisheye. Also don’t forget to check out the Black Knight pub downtown. (maybe on the cloudy nights) :-))) The store Weaver and Devore in Old Town will have anything and everything that you’ll need to stay warm in the -40’s and -50’s. I’m sure you’ll enjoy the aurora. Hope it stays clear for your visit. All the best, Cyril

  5. Kevin Schafer Says:

    Cyril, If you spent five years up here, you must have seen some spectacular aurora – esp. since you were here during a really active period. Thanks for the local tips : we’ve been here before but are still discovering new corners of YK. For now, the skies are still clear, and the aurora very active. Thanks for commenting!

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